The National Study of Youth and Religion, headed by Dr. Christian Smith, created the largest study of teenagers’ faith beliefs and practices. I already warned you that I’m a stats buff. This is the study that has shaped youth ministry for the last 15 years because what it revealed was so shocking. From this ongoing extensive research Dr. Christian Smith has come up with this description of “religion” that is practiced by most American adults and teenagers. He calls it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Be ready to be alarmed. This is not the faith you passed on to your child (I hope).
The following is taken from https://adam4d.com/mtd/ which is a comic explanation of what is going on. Comics! Go check out the entire thing. The comic about youth group and marshmallows is something you will never have to worry about from me.
Did you notice how impersonal this God is?
Did you notice how uninvolved this God is?
Did you notice how heavily this relies on the person to be good—or worse yet, good enough?
Did you notice that adults also believe in a God like this? Do you? Have you?
You may also notice how convenient this “god” is to fit into justifying sinful lifestyles.
Teens are trying to figure out their lives, their identity, their future, where they belong in this world. This is the work of adolescent development (and why the laws of the land protect them!). It becomes important for them to “fit in” and belong. Thus the justifying of sinful lifestyles. Thus the creation of a god who is comfortable. Who is ‘box-able”. Who is a genie to help them survive adolescence.
Far from whom Jesus really is. Far from the countercultural message that Jesus’ life was.
The teens are fitting Jesus into their lives so they can “make it” in their adolescent world. As a youth pastor at my local church my goal is to continually introduce them to Jesus who will speak to their soul. Not their contrived identity. It is their souls who will not lead a life of regret, make changes in this world, and will join us all in heaven someday.
I’m hoping to also have this goal here in this space. Our teens don’t need more marshmallow games and youth pastors who rah-rah them into a faith commitment that doesn’t fit their 24/7 world. To comply with that beloved youth pastor, they may have committed to serve a moralistic therapeutic deism.
(Side note: There is this fascinating book called The God-Shaped Brain. Using the new neuroscience on the brain it shows how our brains actually change based on our picture of God. Fascinating. And all the more reason why it is important to introduce our teens to the true God of the Bible and not a warped misinterpreted version.)
For a good scriptural rundown on what a relationship with this true Biblical God looks like, go to https://www.cru.org/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/beginning-with-god/our-new-relationship-with-god.html
Introduce your teen to this personal God you have come to know and love. The one who does ask you to make hard decisions. To maybe not “fit in” as well. The one who cursed a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) and doesn’t make sense all of the time. The one who changed your life so dramatically. The one who leads you to see the entire world so differently. Pass on this brave faith.